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Forgiveness, conflict and estrangement

Forgiveness is hard. I guess that's why the teachings of Jesus on forgiving others seemed so revolutionary, so unnatural, so counter-intuitive. It's particularly hard when the other party doesn't seem interested in conflict resolution or setting things right. Maybe they are insensitive and don't care; maybe they didn't realize what they did; maybe they moved on and there's no chance of addressing it with them; or who knows, maybe they sent an email to explain and make up, but it got lost and you never got it and never knew they sent it. Whatever the reason, sometimes we have to forgive when the other party hasn't responded. Yet we are commanded to do so. It's partly an act of the will to invoke the spiritual, Christian agape love, and to remember how much Christ did so we could be forgiven. But so often those seem like religious rationalizations in the face of pain and humiliation from others. Forgiveness can be really hard to do. I find there are no easy religious answers. It just requires a lot of struggle in prayer. Praying thru the psalms about vindication, God's acting in the situation, God bringing about justice. It requires praying for spiritual deliverance from the recurring bad memories and feelings. It may require trying to understand the other person. It may require considering whether you are partly at fault.

But there's more than that. It requires focusing on God, not yourself or your situation. That's a perspective we can gain from the psalms, like many of the first section of psalsm that deal with such situations. The psalmists always look to God for deliverance and help, and most of all, their focus is on God, not themselves, their hurt, their feelings, or their problems. These psalms speak of God as our refuge and deliverance; for example, Psalm 13.5:

"But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation."

What does that mean? 'Salvation' is used here and in other psalms in the sense of deliverance. But it does not necessarily mean that God is going to rescue us from our circumstances. Rather, he often delivers us in the midst of our circumstances. The external situation may not change, but our internal situation is changed. Notice how in this poetic couplet, God's unfailing love is coupled with salvation or deliverance - this is the parallelism that is common to Hebrew poetry, where couplets express similar or related ideas. So unfailing love is equated with salvation. And 'unfailing love' is probably a rendering of the Hebrew hesed or God's covenant love, his unfailing commitment-love toward his children. Our deliverance is a spiritual deliverance, not necessarily a physical deliverance or deliverance from our circumstances. Our refuge is in God's love and presence. When we really seek and experience his love and presence in a very real way, we are changed. We are comforted. Our thinking and attitudes are changed. We realize that the external circumstances will not harm us, and are nothing compared to the greatness of our God. His love and presence are much bigger and much more powerful than our problems. He and our relationship with him are more important than our problems. He puts our problems into perspective. This helps us to deal with our problems more easily. In realizing this, and experiencing his love, we have the love and ability to forgive others more easily.

There are spiritually instructive lessons to be learned from difficult situations of estrangement and unresolved conflict with others. You may experience false accusations and insults from others, or find that people are spreading false gossip about you. In that case, it is easier for us to meditate on the suffering that Christ went thru on our behalf, undergoing false accusation and illegal trials. Your situation will pale in comparison to what he went thru, but in such times you can appreciate better how he suffered for you in more ways than just physical.

Likewise when someone else does not seem to want to resolve a conflict - it makes it a bit easier to understand what he went thru. Even more so, I think it teaches us what it's like for God, trying to reconcile people to himself. When another person doesn't seem to want to reconcile with you, well, that's just what it's like for God dealing with people all the time, people who don't want to repent and know him. It's how we treat God oftentimes, too. Before our salvation, we ignored God, didn't want to repent or seek his forgiveness. We ignored him and trashed him. That's how other people treat God all the time. Even for us Christians, we sometimes grieve the Holy Spirit. We ignore God, don't spend time with him, do things that grieve his heart. He suffers that relationship neglect from us all the time. When you feel hurt like that, you can understand what God endures from us. Such pain then can be fruitful if it makes us more humble, repentent, and forgiving before God, and better able to experience his love and forgiveness.


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